Monday, 21 August 2017

Meet Tania McCartney — Challenge Founder

Tania McCartney, image: Martin Ollman for HerCanberra

Tell us what sort of a child you were. Did art play a big part in your growing up?

I lived in my head as a child. I was talkative, endlessly inspired, bossy and inventive. Everything could be made into something, and often was. And everything could be beautiful, too.

There were endless hours decorating and redecorating my room, converting the carport roof into a living room, digging a wishing well in the backyard and editing a local newsletter. I’d also draft plans for exquisite mansions on metre-wide sheets of graph paper, write plays and direct them, pen adventure stories and picture books, illustrating and stapling them together.

I loved to draw, write, dance, sing, bake, make, create secret clubs and even design the stationery for them. So yes, you could say art (or the Arts) was a big part of growing up!

Looking ahead to adulthood, I wanted to be an author, graphic designer, illustrator, actress and designer—simultaneously—and I’ve filled almost all of those roles, though it’s taken many decades to finally arrive at a place where I’m doing this full time. It’s a heavenly place to be. I think my 10-year-old self would be pretty happy to know my hard work has paid off.

from work-in-progress, HarperCollins

Why do you make art now?

Quite simply—because it brings me joy. It feels like I’ve returned to my core self when I create. Like I’ve come home. I also do it for work. Doing something you love, something that makes you intensely happy and brings deep reward… to be able to do it for ‘work’? It’s phenomenal.

Australia Illustrated was a direct result of the Challenge, EK Books, 2016

Have you formally trained as an artist or illustrator? Describe your art background/journey.

I’ve had no formal instruction since year 10 at high school. Everything I’ve done has been self-taught—until I started the 52-Week Illustration Challenge. As soon as the Challenge took off, I tripped and fell head over heels in love with painting and drawing again. I hadn’t illustrated for 25 years—and had seriously believed I could no longer draw. What a revelation to see my skills blossom so fast—like getting back on a bicycle.

During the first year of the Challenge, I began taking digital illustration courses on I had lots of digital graphic design experience but I wanted to do ‘more’. I also learned exponentially from other Challenge members, and, frankly, by just making art. My first illustrated book, Australia Illustrated, was a direct result of the skills once the Challenge began.

This year I started doing more specific online courses in linework on, specifically with author/illustrator Nina Rycroft, and other talented people. I hope to do some advanced watercolour courses and maybe even some one-on-one classes on advanced techniques and printing in the next year or two.

from work-in-progress, National Library of Australia

Do you have a favourite medium or subject matter?

I adore, adore, adore watercolour. It’s by far my true love, but I’m also loving the incredible possibility of digital illustration. Printing techniques are a great love, too and I’ve recently discovered ink (gasp!). I’d like to work with gouache more—it’s delicious.

Multimedia is insanely good fun. I take photographs of textures everywhere I go, and I paint and print backgrounds that I scan and use in my digital art. I’m keen to bring more typography into my creations, as well as snippets from old magazines, books and catalogues.

I’m a bit obsessed with typography, too.

from Australia Illustrated

Describe your artistic process, from ‘no idea’ to ‘finished artwork’. 

Like most creators, I tend to channel things. They just come through me; from where I do not know. Ideas pop up randomly or are usually inspired by kids, art, nature or memories. If I’m both writing and illustrating, there is no ‘rule’—the illos could come first or the text first (though more commonly the latter).

As for creating the actual piece, I don’t do drafts. I just don’t. I can’t. It would ruin my mojo. Thankfully, the publishers I’ve worked with so far are cool with that. So, what I do is I draw lightly on watercolour paper and then just colour it in.

For digital, I just start drawing. I don’t plan things and I don’t plot. I just start and the rest falls into place. I can see what I want to do in my head, but sometimes things veer in an unexpected direction and I just go with it. Sometimes I have no idea what I’ll do, yet it miraculously unfolds. It's like an enigma wrapped in a surprise wrapped in happy. I love this process so much, but I have to be honest—sometimes I start a piece in a mild state of angst because I don’t know what I’m doing until it emerges!

from Australia Illustrated

How do you fit your creative work in with a busy family life? Do you have a routine?

I used to think I had a routine, but I don’t really. All I know is that I work hard, to the detriment of my social life, housework, down time and once-slim physique—and I’m not easily derailed or distracted. I seem to work fast and I’m very driven, so I do manage to get a lot done in a given day. Then I’m free at night for my husband and teens, and the dreaded housework and having to wash one’s hair (groan).

Where is your favourite place to create and illustrate?

In my studio. It’s at the front of the house, faces north and is drenched in light. It’s my happy place. I’ll soon be investing in a laptop for the first time in many years, so I plan to create in cafes like I did pre-kids!

image: Martin Ollman for HerCanberra

What impact has the Challenge had on your creative journey?

The impact has been everything. I mean—total. Without it, I would never, ever have brought illustration back into my life. The Challenge is wholly responsible for my reconnection, and for bringing back something I’ve missed so deeply.

Oh—and I would never have gone pro with illustration, either. I’m working on my fourth illustrated book this year, and just this morning, a high-profile publisher emailed and asked me to send in some illustrations. It’s like I’m asleep and dreaming.

Tania's first Challenge illustration in 2014, Week 1: EGGS

Do you have illustrators or artists who give you inspiration?

So many! Too many to list, but just off the top of my head—Miroslav Sasek, Anna Walker, Gus Gordon, David Roberts, Emily Gravett, Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Barbara Dziadosz, Lane Smith, Gennine Zlatkis, Oana Befort, Carson Ellis, Isabelle Arsenault, Jon Klassen, Peter Brown, Marc Martin. And Nicky Johnston and Kirsty Collett and our own Challenge admin girls, too! They are brilliant artists.

What are you currently working on and what will we see next from you?

I’ve just finished my first full scale illustrated wall map. It’s called Australia: Illustrated Map and will be out with Hardie Grant Travel this December. I had the time of my life creating this, and even designed the tube packaging and dump bin—what a learning experience!

Australia: Illustrated Map, Hardie Grant Travel, out December 2017

I’m nearing the end of a large book project with Jackie French for the National Library of Australia—all digital illustration. That’s out late 2018 or early 2019. And in a few weeks, I’m starting an unusual biographic-style picture book on a famous Australian for HarperCollins. This has been a big dream, and a long time coming.

Early in the new year I’m commencing a graphic design style book for the National Library and I’m continuing work on two junior fiction books/series, which I’ll also illustrate.

My first greeting cards (with Nuovo Group) are out soon and I hope to do some more for them, when I can find time! I'm having a card giveaway until 3 September (only posting to Australian addresses), you can click the image below to enter.

Do you have a dream creative project you'd love to be able to do?

I’ve had two dream projects come true this year—a map, and a Christmas book called Merry Everything!, illustrated by Jess Racklyeft, out this October with Windy Hollow Books.

I’ve long dreamt of a book with illustrations comprised of typography but so many of these books have come out these past few years, it’s set me back a little. I do think it will happen, though, when I can clear my plate!

And I dream of doing an alphabet book and one about balloons. Not sure why but I just love balloons.

Tell us something that we don’t know about you. 

I poke my tongue out when I draw and paint. I have green eyes. I’ve moved house over 70 times and have lived in four different countries. I speak intermediate French and beginner Mandarin. I used to be an astrologer. I can wolf-whistle like a builder (no fingers!). I have a massive (I mean, HUGE) picture book collection. When I go into a bookstore and approach the picture book section, I become so overwhelmed, I have to kneel down on the floor. Doesn’t everyone do that?

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